Nooks & Crannies, Holiday Edition

Check out these unusual and inventive stores around our area.

Cocoa Bean Fine Desserts

11 S. Seventh St., Geneva, (630) 845-2990,

After spending about a decade working at prestigious restaurants and hotels in Chicago and Dallas, pastry chef Paul Saucedo wanted to branch out on his own. So he decided to set up shop in Geneva.

Now, 14 years later, Saucedo’s French bakery is a go-to option for pastries.

The baker offers between 150 to 175 items daily, including cookies, brownies, muffins, croissants and cakes.

“People love our almond croissants,” Saucedo says. “We flavor them with almond cream on the inside, and they’re really good.”

Cocoa Bean also sells coffee, tea and homemade hot chocolate to accompany the variety of baked goods.

And, it also specializes in wedding and custom cakes.

“The wedding cakes are really popular,” Saucedo says. “We’ve gone as far as Michigan and Milwaukee just to drop off our cakes.”

Cocoa Bean continues to grow each year, and the numbers prove it. Saucedo says the bakery has seen an 8 to 10 percent growth in sales each year.

“We make everything in house and we don’t use any shortening or preservatives,” he says. “That’s one of the things that makes us unique.”

Hours: Tues.-Fri. 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Sun. to noon.

Whippletree Farm Antiques

210 Main St., Wauconda, (847) 526-7808,

This antique store is a 10,000-square-foot wonder loaded with fascinating items.

Owner Gerry Lorenz travels to Europe each year to find things he can sell. He also scours the Chicago area for one-of-a-kind antiques. The result is a vast collection of American, Victorian and European items that date back to the 18th century and include silverware, glassware, furniture and small art objects such as stained-glass windows and oil paintings.

“We have people coming in from all over the country to see us,” says Christopher Popik, manager.

The antique store got off the ground more than 50 years ago when Lorenz started purchasing antiques from area farm auctions. In 1977, Lorenz purchased an old hardware store for his growing business and it’s been home ever since.

One thing that’s unique about Whippletree, Popik says, is that this isn’t an antiques mall where multiple dealers sell their own items. Lorenz is the sole vendor, but he’s surrounded by a knowledgeable staff.

“As a staff, we have 150 years of combined experience,” Popik says. “We have something for any budget or any type of decor.”

Hours: Tues.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

The Thoughtfulness Shop

104 Cass St., Woodstock, (815) 338-5651,

Owner Ceal Schroeder likens her small shop to a mini-mall.

“We sell name brands like the big malls, but we sell more unusual items you won’t see at the big-box stores,” Schroeder says.

The Thoughtfulness Shop, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, carries a selection of women’s jewelry and clothing, greeting cards, candles, home decor and baby items, among many other things. The store provides free gift-wrapping.

Schroeder began her career as registered nurse and was an avid collector of Department 56’s holiday village collectibles.

“We used to buy our Department 56 items from the previous owner,” she says. “I got a letter saying he was retiring and after reading it, I thought about opening a gift store. My husband and I had a mid-life crisis and took over the store.”

Department 56 items are still a staple. The Christmas and Halloween displays are set up year-round.

Schroeder goes out of her way to accommodate customers.

“We’ve delivered balloons to one customer at 1 a.m.,” she says. “We want you to be happy with what you bought because you’re giving the gift to someone who’s special to you.”

Hours: Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sat. 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. noon-4 p.m.

Cassie’s Corn Crib Cafe

124 S. Maple St., Sycamore, (815) 991-5870

There was a time when popcorn lovers could only get a Cassie’s treat at a wagon from April to November.

Now, a new cafe serves up the treat all year long. But don’t worry; you can still find the wagon during warm months.

“We make everything homemade,” says Cassie Oltman, who owns the business with her husband, Troy. “I make my caramel in a big kettle with a wooden spoon. It’s a homemade recipe, and nothing is boxed or mixed.”

Oltman says there are roughly 10 flavors available, including old-fashioned white corn, cheese corn, caramel corn and popcorn balls. There are also specials flavors available during the year including pumpkin spice, white cheddar and caramel apple.

The cafe, which opened in the spring, also sells breakfast items, sandwiches, desserts and pastries.

The business has been a Sycamore staple for more than a century. Oltman’s mother, Jody, bought the business in 1983, and during the ’90s, Oltman started getting more involved. She took over from her mother in 2011.

“I started working for my mom, and I just kept it going,” Oltman says. “We’re still using the popcorn recipe that’s been used since the very beginning.”

The original popcorn stand, a horse-drawn popcorn wagon, will open again in April.

Hours: Tues.-Wed. 7 a.m.-3 p.m., Thurs.-Sat. to 7:30 p.m., Sun. to 2 p.m.